To Katie Kijak x’24, interior design and user experience (UX) design have the same goal: creating spaces that work for the people who use them.
Before enrolling at UW-Madison, Kijak—a current student pursuing the iSchool’s Capstone Certificate in UX Design—honed her skills in the interior design industry, helping create innovative workspaces for both Lerdahl Workplace Interiors and Sentry, a leading business insurance company. At Sentry, Kijak found herself collaborating with the in-house user experience (UX) team on a project designing a research lab.
“I was really interested in how the team approached problem-solving and design by putting the user first,” she said. This experience opened her eyes to the wider world of user experience — and the importance of user-centered design in both physical and digital spaces. Kijak decided to pursue further education in UX design, and when she learned about UW-Madison’s program, she was sold. “I really liked the length of the program and the chance to learn from industry leaders,” Kijak said. She began the iSchool’s UX program in fall 2023.
Lessons in UX design
The flexible UX program can be completed entirely online in one year, and it enables students to accommodate work and life commitments while building essential skills to advance as a UX professional. To obtain the Capstone Certificate, students like Kijak pass through a sequence of three courses, sharpening essential skills like data analysis and digital design. They then complete a capstone project to build the foundations of a personal portfolio, a critical asset in the growing UX job market.
As she continues in the program, Kijak has already learned several valuable lessons, including:
- The value of insights from diverse perspectives: With a different guest speaker in her courses each week, she has appreciated chances to learn from current UX professionals about creative projects and industry trends. “That’s valuable because I am new to it, so it was good to hear other peoples’ stories, what kinds of challenges they’re seeing, and how [UX] has evolved over time,” Kijak said.
- The balance between functionality and aesthetics: Kijak said this balance is key to both interior design and UX design. She had seen trade-offs between attractiveness and practicality in her previous roles, but the UX capstone certificate has made clear that the same rule applies in digital spaces. Kijak enjoys that in UX design especially, it’s critical to “advocate for the user,” because in the end, “you’re trying to make things accessible.”
- The critical importance of up-front research. Before designing a workspace, or a website, Kijak said, design teams need to gather information up front to determine who will be using their end product and what those users’ needs are. According to Kijak, the UX certificate program has emphasized and clarified this lesson: “Take a little bit more time on the front end, gather all your data, synthesize it, evaluate it, and then start your design,” Kijak said
After finishing the capstone certificate, Kijak hopes to merge her experiences in interior design and UX design. While her program will not conclude for several months, she’s already considering how to combine her two overlapping skill sets. “There’s a lot of parallels with interior design and digital design,” she said. “My ultimate goal, I think, would be to merge the two.”
Overall, Kijak’s journey reflects a passion for design and openness to learning. It foreshadows a future of bridge-building between her expertise in interior design and the principles and methods of UX design that the iSchool’s UX capstone certificate program instills.
For more information about the iSchool’s Capstone Certificate in User Experience Design, visit its webpage.
Written by Thomas Jilk, marketing & communications specialist.